Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pass the health care, please.

I was going to write about something else today, but while doing research yesterday about blogging, I came across a post, which is stuck in my head. I read Jon Armstrong's post about the problems he and his family are facing trying to get health care coverage (read about it here: This post made me angry (with health insurance), frustrated (about the U.S.) and very happy that I live in Germany.

First, let me clear up some misconceptions. Germany is not a socialist country. Germany does, however, mandate that everyone have health insurance. The German government does not pay it all. In fact the German and I pay almost $400 a month for health insurance. I complained about this the other day to my mother, who was baffled. "I thought Germany is a socialist country. Don't you have universal health care?" Um, no. Germany does however subsidize (a little) the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs in order to keep costs down and it does pay for its poorest citizens.

The German government even subsidizes my husband and I. The German and I are "privately insured." This is what happens in my world. I need to go to the doctor next week. I will go and pay nothing the day of my visit. About 6 weeks later I will get a bill from my doctor (depending on what it is, from 20 Euros for a bladder infection visit to the German's 500 Euro dentist bill last month(!!) which is a whole other blog!). When I receive the bill, I pay the bill in full. Then the German files for reimbursement with the state government of Bremen and with our health insurance company. The German is a civil servant and has benefits that totally rock (the best thing you can do in life is marry a German civil servant, seriously, find yourself one). About 3 weeks after filing for reimbursement we get our money back. I have to pay for all prescriptions myself. I have dental (for the first time in 10 years, but I still refuse to go to the dentist) and they cover the cost of one new pair of glasses a year.

In Germany if you are not "privately" insured then they can be "legally" insured. Being "legally" insured in Germany is like being insured in the U.S. You pay a monthly fee (which is adjusted according to income, but is around 6% of your monthly income) and your employer matches what you pay to the health insurance company. When you go to the doctor, you pay a 10 Euro co-pay when you go to the doctor, every quarter.

Does this system sound in anyway communist or socialist? One of the biggest differences is that the German government has a "health minister," who is responsible for overseeing health insurance companies. That means that the German government makes sure that people are not being gouged, and if they are denied at one company, that they will get insurance somewhere else. Also, if you are an independent freelance worker (such as myself, besides teaching a class at the university, I am also a freelance ESL teacher) and you make below a certain income per year, the government will reduce the costs of your payments, so that even poor people have health insurance. (I hope I have not misrepresented the system. I will have the German proofread my post later.)

Health insurance in the U.S. just stinks. My blog has been mostly pro U.S., but I have to admit, when I think of health insurance, I usually think the whole country is a little bananas. I read a couple of comments on Jon Armstrong's site. Some talked about mobilizing Democrats and trying to lobby. But health insurance needs a serious overhaul in issue framing (see grad school professors - I can use the lingo you taught me!). The German explained the importance of mandated subsidized health care to my Republican father. "Look, people who get sick and have no health insurance go to work and are not productive and get everyone else sick. If they had health insurance then think of all the working hours you could save." Even my free market loving dad could not argue with that logic.

I think this may be a better way to frame the issue. Americans are not that interested in social justice. Well, they are until they have to pay for it. I went to a great university in the U.S., which I loved and of which I am very proud . Unfortunately they provided crappy health care to graduate students - and it is a place dedicated to social justice! If we are going to convince Hannity and Co. to do something, we need to start to speak their language a bit more. It may not be comfortable, but it is a beginning.


Anonymous said...

I have a theory about US health care. I think the reason we will never go to socialized health care is because the employment infrastructure would collapse. Just think how many people are at their job simply to get medical coverage. I know I would be back to freelancing in a millasecond if not for the pesky concern I might get sick. And $400 seems like a lot to be shelling out each month. That is my school loans payment!

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.

Carrie said...

Once again, I apprecite the US more and more. I paid $25 for a breat reduction. Best thing I ever did for myself and b/c of my health care benefits, one of the cheapest. When I think about the things I do for myself on a regualr shoes = $30-60/pair if I get a kick ass deal, nails = $30-35, depending on tip, hair = $60-65, depending on tip, massage = $120-150, depending on tip and type, etc...Yep, got to pick out my boobs and only paid $25 bucks! Gotta love it!

Carrie said...

ug, wish I remembered to spell check ;)